“Sorry Sheila Jeffreys I wanna look cool!” I exclaimed as I got ready to permanently mark my body with what Germaine Greer calls “bad drawing”.
Why did I say this? Sheila Jeffreys analyzed in her book “Beauty and Misogyny” how the trend of body modifications is actually a popularization of mutilation which is especially marketed to women. I read it a couple years ago and basically agreed with the premise. However I’ve always wanted tattoos and had saved enough money to get my first. I’d also done what felt like a minor achievement for myself that day and wanted it to be forever connected as a triumph in my memory.
The first thing I noticed was the pain of it. It felt like getting sliced open with a razor. Only the pain subsided after awhile and it actually began to feel good. The intense vibration of the tattoo gun was giving my skin a deep tissue massage which for someone who has a chronic illness which causes severe pain, was very nice to experience. I began to realize that there was a whole layer of sadomasochism to the whole process which I hadn’t anticipated. The pleasure/pain dynamic was seriously weird to be experiencing as someone who shys away from that kind of thing instinctively.
My friend who is also a radical feminist went with me and actually got the same tattoo I did. Afterwards I brought up Sheila Jeffrey’s analysis of body modifications, specifically piercings and tattoos and we had a pretty interesting discussion. It is true that many women exercise their “agency” by self-mutilation. My friend, who has multiple tattoos said to me that for her a big part of her life as a woman has been people denying her reality exists. For her having something permanently on her body is proof that her life and reality cannot be denied. They’re RIGHT THERE. So actually what I had brushed aside before from Beauty and Misogyny was made very real by permanently mutilating my body. In some ways I’ve taken the step to differentiate myself as an individual; this is my body, my image that I project in order to communicate something about myself. But its also true that what I have to work with as a woman to differentiate myself is often superficial. Related to the physical, material world and of course, my body.
I can see now why so many women, particularly ones who are survivors of trauma do develop addictions to getting tattooed. The pleasure/pain dynamic and the subsequent feeling of agency over the self is an addictive behavior borne out of the desire to feel “real”.
I’m not different. I know I want more “bad drawings” put on my body. I guess now though I have a deeper understanding of the what and why of my doing it.